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April 16, 2020

Lockdown reflection

Opinion

April 16, 2020

Covid-19 has brought Pakistan at a crossroads. Weak leadership, ceremonial statements, hollow slogans, cosmetic reforms, vague policies, selective accountability, suppression of freedoms, and denial of reality may not help the nation. The coronavirus has exposed the gaps in our policymaking and institutional capacity, but has also provided us with an opportunity to rethink and reframe our national priorities.

The extent of the capacity and the hollowness of the political decision-making at the highest echelons has become abundantly clear during this crisis. The executive branch of the government seems to have abstract faith without proper appreciation for national unity and the necessity of discipline. Self-serving politics, rigidity, and ego appear to supersede occasionally over the national interest.

Confusion, inconsistency and poor understanding of the reality appear to be the hallmarks of our political leadership. Had a few experts and institutions not helped our government, we would have seen a widespread disaster and ugly death. This state of affairs raises important questions for the consideration of our policymakers and/or state institutions.

The legislature has lost institutional prestige as it has failed to perform its primary function, lawmaking through acts of parliament, not ordinances. One may ask, is a democracy without a functional parliament not a farce? Can the basic rights of the people such as the freedom of expression be denied in a democratic government? Should the legislature not criticize flawed and outdated laws and get them amended or repealed through parliament?

Parliamentarians must debate and oppose any law which is passed without their 'meaningful' consultation. They should ignore short-term and subjective political interest in times of crisis and in the process of nation-building.

The emergence of the novel coronavirus may also help us redefine the parameters of our national security. It may be appreciated that health security, education, environment and economic prosperity is inextricably linked to national security. Therefore, should governance not be left to the chosen representatives of the people, allowing the growth and maturity of the political process in the country? History shows us that only those nations have survived which have constantly reviewed their perception of national security. Only those countries make progress which uphold the constitution and provide justice to citizens.

With respect, the indulgence of our judiciary may also be sought to the following matters: Does our judiciary not need to demonstrate that judicial independence is not a theoretical myth but a reality? Shouldn’t judicial appointments be made more transparently to enhance the competence and integrity of our justice system? Shouldn’t the flaws in our justice system be addressed more vigorously?

Shouldn’t the legal profession be upgraded? Shouldn’t Pakistan's judicial system be reformed with a broader consultation of judges, lawyers, and other experts? Shouldn’t suo-motu action be avoided in the policymaking domain of the government? The study of other justice systems suggests that merit and accountability, within the justice system, enable the judiciary to work more effectively.

Briefly, do we not need to introspect and see where we have lapsed, as a nation – and why? Have we not left behind the ideals that we have outlined in the preamble of our constitution – social, economic, political justice? Doesn’t our constitution provide and protect the freedom of thought, expression and religion etc? These questions may spur policy reforms in all institutions of the state. It may show us a way forward for national security, good governance and justice.

In short, institutional reform will help not only to meet challenges like Covid-10, but will also help to make us stronger. Our nation has huge potential, indeed. With faith, unity, and discipline, once again Pakistan can become a modern progressive country.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]